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March 09, 2000
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Methamphetamine: The Problems, The Drug

By now most of us have read articles, training information or investigated crimes that are directly associated to methamphetamine. Although methamphetamine has been around for many years, an understanding of what the drug is, how it works, what effects it has on the users and the violence that is associated to it, has been left to those who delve into the methamphetamine sub-culture. Many readers, who read about methamphetamine related crime, pass off methamphetamine as just another drug on the streets of America. The methamphetamine epidemic that has swept across the western and central united states is rapidly becoming the nations biggest drug related concern for Law Enforcement, Prosecutors, Medical Professionals, Firefighters, Hazardous Materials Units, Social Service Representatives and Communities. Why is methamphetamine any different from any other drug we have to deal with? The answer(s) really consists of many reasons. The purpose of this article is to discuss some of those reasons.What exactly is Methamphetamine?Methamphetamine is extremely powerful, psychoactive, central nervous system stimulant. Methamphetamine is very psychologically addicting and had an extremely long duration period. Methamphetamine belongs to the family of stimulant drugs known as amphetamines. Many stimulants belong in this family of drugs; methamphetamine is only one of them. Although there is a prescription form of methamphetamine named 'Desoxyn', the majority of methamphetamine on the streets is the product of illegally manufactured D-methamphetamine.D-methamphetamine is derived from common household chemicals that by them selves, are not illegal to purchase or possess. Methamphetamine comes in many colors, shapes and forms. Although there are some similarities, the final product's appearance depends on the method of manufacture, the primary precursor used during the process, which reagents and solvents that were used during the process and the ability and knowledge of the basement chemist that is making the drug. Unlike cocaine, methamphetamine starts from chemicals and ends with a powder form or salt (Hydrochloride). The drug is ingested into the system by snorting, smoking, intravenously, eating or even drinking. Types of MethamphetamineThere are three different types of methamphetamine and each affects the central nervous system differently. At the time of this writing, only two of them are considered controlled substances. The different types are:
  • Levo or L-Methamphetamine
  • Dextro/Levo or D/L-Methamphetamine
  • Dextro or D-Methamphetamine
The most common types of methamphetamine are the D/L or D types of Methamphetamine. The most powerful is the Dextro or D-Methamphetamine. D-methamphetamine is 3-4 times more powerful than the Levo or L-Methamphetamine. Until recently, you could buy L-Methamphetamine over the counter in various products. 'Vicks' inhalers for instance used to contain L-Methamphetamine as an active ingredient. The goal for clandestine laboratory cooks is to manufacture the Dextro Methamphetamine. It is the most sought after form of the drug and the desired final product of those who illegally manufacture the drug.Effects of MethamphetamineThe effects you can expect to see of someone who is under the influence of methamphetamine vary depending on the type of methamphetamine they have ingested. The tolerance they have formed to the drug, the amount of the drug ingested, the length of time used, the purity of the drug and the time frame from when they ingested the drug and the time you observe them, all affect the symptoms you might observe. Some of the predictable signs and symptoms are as follows:
  • Elevated Pulse (Beyond 100 bpm)
  • Elevated Blood Pressure
  • Elevated Body Temperature
  • Possibly dilated pupils
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness, Hyperactive
  • Aggressiveness, Potentially Violent
  • Body Tremors
  • Distinct odor
  • Poor Hygiene
  • Tooth Rot, Dark coloring around gums
  • Pale, Unhealthy appearance
  • Short Attention Span
  • Rapid Speech, Broken speech patterns
  • Burn marks on fingers
  • Severe Acne on skin 'Meth bugs'
Is Methamphetamine replacing Crack Cocaine?The answer is yes, in certain parts of the country. The why can only be speculated, but some reasonable explanations to this might be;
  • More potent drug, (Lasts much longer than cocaine) the duration of cocaine is only 60-90 minutes. Methamphetamine can last up to 36 hours.
  • Cost - depending on where the user lives in the USA, the cost of methamphetamine is about the same as cocaine, generally around $80.00-$100.00 per gram.
  • Availability - Methamphetamine can be made within a few short hours. Having a recipe, which can be downloaded off the Internet and around $60.00 worth of easily purchased chemicals, can produce one ounce of methamphetamine. One ounce of methamphetamine can sell for $1,200.00 on the streets. With a large demand, the lure of easy, fast money brings many to the challenge of manufacturing and selling. With large-scale labs producing several hundred pounds of methamphetamine at a time, and the increase of local smaller labs, methamphetamine is very easy to get if the user wants it.
  • Effects of D-methamphetamine - the users when first introduced to the drug, experience an intense rush that can last up to 30 minutes. The rush and high is much longer and more intense than cocaine.
So from a user point of view, you get more 'bang for your buck' if you use methamphetamine.DownsideMethamphetamine has many short-term effects but also has severe long-term effects as well. As the user continues the use of D-methamphetamine, a tolerance begins to form, thus requiring more of the drug to be ingested to produce similar effects. Once the user becomes a 'High Intensity Abuser', the rush begins to fade and the reasons they began using diminishes as well. At this point, they are considered addicts. It has become a way of life for the user and many of them will do anything to acquire more of the drug. They have lost all interest in what used to matter to them including their health, family and job. Continued use of this drug can cause permanent damage to many of the vital organs and if smoking was the primary method of ingestion, brain damage may also occur. Because of the appetite suppressing effects of the drug, the user no longer receives proper nourishment and overall health fades rapidly. In addition, once the user gets to this level, the cost to support the habit has become extremely expensive. In one case, a user claimed to have a methamphetamine habit of 1/8 of an ounce per day. That equates to approximately $225.00 - $275.00 a day, depending on where the user lives.One of the major downside effects to this drug is during the 'tweaking' stage. At this point, the user can only think about more of the drug. The user coming down from the drug and is highly unpredictable. Extreme paranoia, allusions, delusions and hallucinations are quite common in this stage. Due to the paranoia caused by methamphetamine use, many of the users arm themselves with firearms and explosives, knifes and swords to protect themselves from imaginary police; demons, mafia and greedy associates that they are convinced are after them. Due to the powerful stimulant effects of methamphetamine, when a subject does finally crash and reach the downside, severe depression may set in. At this point, they can become very suicidal. Therefore, as you can see, these subjects are dangerous up and down. Clandestine Laboratory Safety IssuesHazards relating to the manufacturing of D-Methamphetamine are also a very big safety concern. Safety is an issue not only for the law enforcement officers that come across these labs, but safety for the unknowing citizen who lives next door. The children that so often are inside the residence and are being exposed, the detention facility that receives a contaminated suspect, social services who receives the contaminated children and the emergency medical personnel that are required to render aid. Some of the immediate hazards of a clandestine laboratory are:
  • Explosive/Flammability - many of the reagents and solvents that are used are not only flammable but also explosive.
  • Toxicity - Many of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process are extremely toxic. Some of which produce an immediate threat and some that have a delayed effect. If exposed the unknowing receiver, may not notice the failure of certain vital organs for several years. THIS CAN HAPPEN BY SHORT, SINGLE, EXPOSURE!
  • Acids and Caustic ingredients - many of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process can cause severe burns to the skin, lungs, and eyes.
Some of the not so immediate concerns but none the less important, are issues such as:
  • Safety Training, Equipment and an operation plan to deal with these situations. Recruiting assistance with children exposed, and contaminated residences. Do we have decontamination procedures, for not only law enforcement, but also the suspects that are arrested and transported to jail? Property landlords who do not provide remediation of their exposed residence properly add to the problem. The obvious problem here is the unsuspecting person who rents the property that used to contain a meth-lab, who is involuntarily exposed to the hazardous chemicals. This raises several questions, such as WHO is going to make sure that these outlying concerns are being followed up on? WHAT is our responsibility as a Law Enforcement entity with these issues?
ConclusionThere are many concerns that are surfacing around the country concerning methamphetamine. Unlike other drugs such as cocaine and heroin, a methamphetamine laboratory has many outlying safety concerns beyond the drug itself. There has been a steady increase of reported methamphetamine labs across the nation for the last several years. The arrests of those involved and the deaths associated to methamphetamine continue to rise each year. Law Enforcement agencies can create a great impact by providing proper training and equipment to all of their personnel that have a chance of coming in contact with these situations. Making efforts to open lines of communication with other agencies and fostering their assistance to help prepare for the situation gives modern day law enforcement a big advantage in preparing for the methamphetamine wave.





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